Set in one of the darkest, grittiest, most turbulent periods of history, A Plague Tale: Innocence asks its players to emotionally invest in some of the most vulnerable protagonists imaginable. Its a tough gamble, especially given the game play loop’s near endless ‘escort mission’ feel. Those willing to wade through the swarms of flesh eating rats with a five year old in tow, however, may find that A Plague Tale: Innocence is a heart wrenching tale of siblings and the supernatural that will haunt their nightmares for some time.
We’re introduced to Amicia, the teenage daughter of the noble de Rune family, first. Amicia is our primary protagonist, but she is not a character that is battle hardened. She is not dutifully trained to wield a sword and go butchering her way across a battlefield, and that is part of what makes her such an endearing character. When the Inquisition arrives at her door step and launches an attack on her family and home she is shaken, but does not let that stop her from taking action in order to get her five year old brother, Hugo, to safety.
While early on, Amicia and Hugo are best served by using stealth to avoid the soldiers of the Inquisition that threaten them. The children’s past sheltered life is clearly evident in how they approach threats, with Amicia’s breathing becoming louder and more panicked when enemies are nearby (hearing impaired players do not need to feel forgotten, here, as there is a faint glow on the screen’s edge to indicate threats, as well) and if left alone for too long Hugo will began to panic and draw attention to himself, as well. Amicia is armed only with a sling shot for the entirety of the game, but it is noisy and you learn quickly that it is safer to just quietly throw your distractions rather than to actually take out the sling and risk being spotted. That is, until the towns folk decide the plague is Hugo’s fault and capture him with the intent of burning him alive in hopes of eliminating the scourge. This instance leaves players no choice but to pull out the sling and attack, but even still Amicia’s reaction is suitable to her character. She’s visibly and audibly upset by having had to kill a man, even though it was justified and necessary in order to protect her brother. Amicia never celebrates the deaths at her hands, and they never make her feel stronger or victorious. They’re unfortunate circumstances in one big nightmare scenario and A Plague Tale: Innocence never lets players forget the gravity of the situation.
That’s if you could forget, anyway, when you’re trudging through swarms of flesh eating rats and using the corpses of dead soldiers as a means to cross a muddy battlefield. A Plague Tale is beautifully realistic, but that means that its grimier, more brutal sequences are made that much more haunting. Amicia’s arsenal of sling shot ammo grows as she befriends a hodge podge group of fellow teenagers each with their own reasons for taking up arms against the Inquisition who have not lead such sheltered lives. Using alchemy, these characters teach Amicia craft-able recipes for a slew of useful ammo types, including potions to put clunky soldiers to sleep, ignifers that can light torches, and even a chemical attractant that draws swarms of rats to whatever it hits. Crafting these different ammo types can be done on the fly using the ammo select wheel, and its a quick enough procedure that under most circumstances you can manage to make what you need, even in battle.
You will want to be mindful of how much you craft, however, as resources are scarce and can be even more so if you’re constantly crafting material-needy potions. Not only do you run the risk of not having enough for ammo you do need, you can also limit yourself from having successfully upgraded your sling and pouches when you reach the end. This can make end game a little more difficult and mean that you’re left struggling through some of the game’s later content. A Plague’s Tale: Innocence spans the course of seventeen chapters, but how long it takes you to complete the entire story is dependent on how much time you take to explore and look for collectibles or if you have to repeat sections over because of difficulty. Still, most players can look to beat the campaign somewhere around the 15-20 hour mark. Thanks to a handy chapter select menu, players can easily go back to specific chapters and look for missing collectibles or to complete secret side objectives that are tied to achievements.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is as heart breaking as it is heart warming, and the relationship between Amicia, Hugo, and the people they interact with will inevitably stir up emotions in even the most stoic of gamers. The spectacular voice acting and stunning scenery leave lasting impressions (even if it is nightmares of flesh eating rats) and the story is well paced. Everything feels incredibly well optimized for the xbox one, albeit the game did suffer one crash during the initial play through when there was a heavy swarm on screen.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher